GenSpring Family Offices, SunTrust Banks Inc.'s wealth management unit for ultra-wealthy families, plans to develop a national family-office network that eventually it can expand overseas.
The chief executive of the Palm Beach, Fla., unit said she hopes to make two to three more acquisitions in the United States this year, and then add offices internationally in the next couple of years.
"There is no question that there are global opportunities," Maria Elena Lagomasino, GenSpring's chief executive, said in an interview Tuesday. "The demand for wealth management services for ultra-wealthy individuals is universal. The only question we have is who to partner with. We certainly will need a local partner to grow internationally."
GenSpring, which has expanded along the East Coast since selling itself to SunTrust in 2001, announced Monday the acquisition of Epic Advisors, a Denver wealth manager with $1 billion in assets under management that serves wealthy families in 11 station in the Rocky Mountain West.
The combined firm had more than $17 billion in assets under management when the deal closed March 31.
The deal for Epic, of which the price was not disclosed, was GenSpring's second since January 2008 when it bought Inlign Wealth Management LLC, a Phoenix firm with $2 billion of assets under advisement.
In December, GenSpring bought Cymric CQ, a Costa, Mesa, Calif., wealth management with $1 billion in assets under management that caters to ultra-wealthy families.
GenSpring has offices in Atlanta, Charlotte, Costa Mesa, Calif., Denver, Greenwich, Conn., New York City, Miami, Orlando, Palm Beach, Fla., Phoenix, Tampa Bay, Fla., Sarasota, Fla., and Washington, DC.
Lagomasino said the company is interested in buying more wealth management companies both nationally and internationally, that have an established local presence.
"This is such a local business," she said. "Wealth management relationships take years if not decades to build, when it comes to affluent investors. Clients want to be close to their advisers. Both Cymric and Epic have families that they have served for generations."
Lagomasino said the pace of acquisitions slowed last year because "everyone was focused on managing their clients and their relationship and everyone got very tactical rather than strategic, but frankly, we have a strong pipeline and we think that there will certainly be more deals this year."
Analysts said that with the strong backing of SunTrust, GenSpring can opportunistically look for more deals at a time when many banks are retrenching.
"A lot of banks and big asset management companies are getting away from managing assets for the ultra-wealthy so that they can preserve capital for their core businesses," said Burton Greenwald, an analyst with BJ Greenwald & Associate in Philadelphia.
William H. Rogers, Jr., a corporate executive vice president for SunTrust Banks Inc.'s corporate and investment banking, mortgage, treasury management and wealth and investment management, said that SunTrust remains very committed to GenSpring even as competitors continue to divest their wealth management businesses.
"This is something that we see as strategic to our business," he said in an interview Tuesday. "The pace of acquisitions slowed last year, but the global, long-term opportunities that we have articulated with GenSpring haven't changed a bit. We think that this strategy is more relevant today than ever before. The industry is demanding transparency and everyone, particularly the ultra-wealthy, wants to work with advisers."
Lagomasino agreed. "It is difficult in today's market to execute a growth-by-acquisition strategy," she said. "But with SunTrust behind us, we have a huge competitive advantage over most of our peers."
GenSpring, founded in 1989 as Asset Management Advisors, caters to families with more than $25 million of assets. Since the SunTrust acquisition the unit has gone from having one office and $500 million of assets under advisement to having 16 offices with $17 billion.
Lagomasino, who was the chairman and chief executive officer of JPMorgan Private Bank before SunTrust hired her to run GenSpring in 2006, said her unit's growth began around "SunTrust's footprint," but expanded along the East Coast up to Connecticut and New York.
She said now that there are still a "lot of attractive places" for GenSpring to expand into, but Rogers said "this is really not a geographic play necessarily. We want GenSpring to grow wherever the opportunity is."
Lagomasino said that this includes international targets. She conceded that it is much more complicated to acquire overseas, but "what families want internationally is not that different than what they want in the U.K. or in Spain."
In addition to acquisitions, Lagomasino said that GenSpring wants to continue to increase its assets under management organically, but she wouldn't put a number or a percentage on that growth.
"We want to be sure to grow wisely and manage that growth intelligently," she said. "One of the things that we promise the wealthy families that we work with is that we will take really good care of them and their assets and we won't let growth get in the way of us providing the best services to them."